Cities of Refuge

After the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, sent a flood and saved only Noah and his family, God implemented a blood for blood policy. If an animal or a man kills…

Genesis 9:5 Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man.
Genesis 9:6 “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man.

God needed man to understand the sanctity of human life and protect it.  Also, it would provide an incentive to stave off evil. 

Further elaborated on:

Exodus 21:12 “He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.
Exodus 21:13 “However, if he did not lie in wait, but God delivered him into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place where he may flee.
Exodus 21:14 “But if a man acts with premeditation against his neighbor, to kill him by treachery, you shall take him from My altar, that he may die.

Differentiation between premeditated killing and accidental, but nevertheless death resulted. Under the law, there was an administering of the death penalty for the more egregious infractions. This was the civil execution for these violations – in particular this blood for blood.

But if it was not premeditated, but by accident He says, “then I will appoint for you a place where he may flee.” Because there is still a penalty for sin, even if it is accidental.

These places where they may flee were called:

Cities of Refuge

This is expanded further in:

Numbers 35:6 “Now among the cities which you will give to the Levites you shall appoint six cities of refuge, to which a manslayer may flee. And to these you shall add forty-two cities.
Numbers 35:7 “So all the cities you will give to the Levites shall be forty-eight; these you shall give with their common-land.
Numbers 35:8 “And the cities which you will give shall be from the possession of the children of Israel; from the larger tribe you shall give many, from the smaller you shall give few. Each shall give some of its cities to the Levites, in proportion to the inheritance that each receives.”
Numbers 35:9 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
Numbers 35:10 “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan,
Numbers 35:11 ‘then you shall appoint cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer who kills any person accidentally may flee there.

Joshua 20:3 ‘that the slayer who kills a person accidentally or unintentionally may flee there; and they shall be your refuge from the avenger of blood.
Joshua 20:4 ‘And when he flees to one of those cities, and stands at the entrance of the gate of the city, and declares his case in the hearing of the elders of that city, they shall take him into the city as one of them, and give him a place, that he may dwell among them.

Numbers 35:12 ‘They shall be cities of refuge for you from the avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation in judgment.

Avenger of Blood

He was to avenge wrongs (no matter what they were), but what we will see here and what the main emphasis is in this chapter, is that He was to be an avenger of blood.

His job was to avenge the families’ loss (normally a family member). He was to reclaim the payment of blood for blood. If he caught them before they got to the city or if they stepped outside of the city of refuge, then he would execute his job.

He was the one who redeemed the life. He was the justifier – he made things right. He made the situation right according to the law God had set forth in Genesis 9:5 “Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning;

This is the blood for blood policy that we talked about. But here is the interesting aspect of this:

The word for avenger here is: gâ’al / Ga-al / goel = redeemer

The Redeemer was also discussed in the series on Ruth:  Ruth 1Ruth 2Ruth 3 and Ruth 4

Nelson Study Bible: To be a redeemer the goel must:

  • be related by blood to those he redeems Ruth 2:1
  • be able to pay the price of redemption Ruth 2:1
  • be willing to redeem Ruth 3:11
  • be free himself

Numbers 35:13 ‘And of the cities which you give, you shall have six cities of refuge.
Numbers 35:14 ‘You shall appoint three cities on this side of the Jordan, and three cities you shall appoint in the land of Canaan, which will be cities of refuge.
Numbers 35:15 ‘These six cities shall be for refuge for the children of Israel, for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them, that anyone who kills a person accidentally may flee there.

Joshua 20:7 So they appointed Kedesh in Galilee, in the mountains of Naphtali, Shechem in the mountains of Ephraim, and Kirjath Arba (which is Hebron) in the mountains of Judah.
Joshua 20:8 And on the other side of the Jordan, by Jericho eastward, they assigned Bezer in the wilderness on the plain, from the tribe of Reuben, Ramoth in Gilead, from the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan, from the tribe of Manasseh.
Joshua 20:9 These were the cities appointed for all the children of Israel and for the stranger who dwelt among them, that whoever killed a person accidentally might flee there, and not die by the hand of the avenger of blood until he stood before the congregation.

Numbers 35:16 ‘But if he strikes him with an iron implement, so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death.
Numbers 35:17 ‘And if he strikes him with a stone in the hand, by which one could die, and he does die, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death.
Numbers 35:18 ‘Or if he strikes him with a wooden hand weapon, by which one could die, and he does die, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death.
Numbers 35:19 ‘The avenger of blood himself shall put the murderer to death; when he meets him, he shall put him to death.
Numbers 35:20 ‘If he pushes him out of hatred or, while lying in wait, hurls something at him so that he dies,
Numbers 35:21 ‘or in enmity he strikes him with his hand so that he dies, the one who struck him shall surely be put to death. He is a murderer. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death when he meets him.
Numbers 35:22 ‘However, if he pushes him suddenly without enmity, or throws anything at him without lying in wait,
Numbers 35:23 ‘or uses a stone, by which a man could die, throwing it at him without seeing him, so that he dies, while he was not his enemy or seeking his harm,
Numbers 35:24 ‘then the congregation shall judge between the manslayer and the avenger of blood according to these judgments.

Deuteronomy 19:12 “then the elders of his city shall send and bring him from there, and deliver him over to the hand of the avenger of blood, that he may die.

Numbers 35:25 ‘So the congregation shall deliver the manslayer from the hand of the avenger of blood, and the congregation shall return him to the city of refuge where he had fled, and he shall remain there until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil.

High Priest

In a sense, it is still blood for blood or death for death. Since life is in the blood and his life ended.  Naturally, this could be a long wait.

Numbers 35:26 ‘But if the manslayer at any time goes outside the limits of the city of refuge where he fled,
Numbers 35:27 ‘and the avenger of blood finds him outside the limits of his city of refuge, and the avenger of blood kills the manslayer, he shall not be guilty of blood,
Numbers 35:28 ‘because he should have remained in his city of refuge until the death of the high priest. But after the death of the high priest the manslayer may return to the land of his possession.

Here we have an elaborate system to take care of the person that commits an accidental death and gives them every opportunity to make use of a city of refuge. This is a peculiar system at first glance that is not all that it seems and is worth taking a more in depth look at especially since this set up was divinely appointed.

They were established by God before they were needed. The concept of the cities of refuge did not originate with Moses or Joshua, but was provided by God. 

Why did He do this? These cities are a clear allusion and parallel to the salvation that is offered in Christ. It foreshadowed the plan He was putting in place and it was a type of things to come.

1. The Names were Illustrative of Christ

Psalms 91:2 I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.”
Psalms 91:3 Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler And from the perilous pestilence.
Psalms 91:4 He shall cover you with His feathers, And under His wings you shall take refuge[it is a place of safety] His truth shall be your shield and buckler.
Psalms 91:5 You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
Psalms 91:6 Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.
Psalms 91:7 A thousand may fall at your side, And ten thousand at your right hand; But it shall not come near you.
Psalms 91:8 Only with your eyes shall you look, And see the reward of the wicked.
Psalms 91:9 Because you have made the LORD, who is my refugeEven the Most High, your dwelling place,
Psalms 91:10 No evil shall befall you, Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling;

Extra scriptures about God as our refuge:

(Psalms 9:9) The LORD also will be a refuge for the oppressed, A refuge in times of trouble.
(Psalms 28:8) The LORD is their strength, And He is the saving refuge of His anointed.
(Psalms 31:2) Bow down Your ear to me, Deliver me speedily; Be my rock of refuge, A fortress of defense to save me.
(Psalms 46:1) God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.
(Psalms 46:7,11) The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
(Psalms 59:16) But I will sing of Your power; Yes, I will sing aloud of Your mercy in the morning; For You have been my defense And refuge in the day of my trouble.
(Psalms 62:7) In God is my salvation and my glory; The rock of my strength, And my refuge, is in God.(Psalms 62:8) Trust in Him at all times, you people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Selah
(Psalms 141:8) But my eyes are upon You, O GOD the Lord; In You I take refuge; Do not leave my soul destitute.
(Psalms 142:5) I cried out to You, O LORD: I said, “You are my refuge, My portion in the land of the living.
(Psalms 144:2) My lovingkindness and my fortress, My high tower and my deliverer, My shield and the One in whom I take refuge, Who subdues my people under me.

The names of the city also point to Christ:

  • Kedesh sanctuary, sanctum and signifies holy, and our refuge is the holy Jesus.
  • Shechem, a shoulder, the load that one carries and all our sins have been laid upon him, and borne by him also the government is upon his shoulder.
  • Hebron, fellowship, and believers are called into the fellowship of Christ Jesus our Lord.
  • Bezer, a fortification, for he is a strong-hold to all those that trust in him. (Psalm 91:2)
  • Ramoth, high or exalted, for him hath God exalted with his own right hand.
  • Golan, joy or exultation, for in him all the saints are justified, and shall glory

2. They were for the Guilty

They were guilty. They killed a person. This is not in doubt.

[RECALL] Numbers 35:11 ‘then you shall appoint cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer who kills any person accidentally may flee there.
Numbers 35:12 ‘They shall be cities of refuge for you from the avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation in judgment.

Romans 3:9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.
Romans 3:10 As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one;
Romans 3:11 There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.
Romans 3:12 They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.”
Romans 3:13 “Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit”; “The poison of asps is under their lips”;
Romans 3:14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”
Romans 3:15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
Romans 3:16 Destruction and misery are in their ways;
Romans 3:17 And the way of peace they have not known.”
Romans 3:18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

This is the way that we were before our calling to this better way of life! So what do we deserve?

Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.

The law defines God’s character and what sin is.  If we break the law, we are sinners and are under the death penalty.

Romans 3:20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,
Romans 3:22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference;

This is how righteousness comes to us, but notice our state before that?

Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

We have all sinned and the penalty of that is death (Romans 6:23). What can we do? To where can we flee? How do we escape this judgment upon us? How can we be justified or made righteousness? (the answer is in the next verse).

Romans 3:24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

gâ’al / Ga-al / goel = substitute redeemer

Nelson Study Bible: To be a redeemer the goel must:

  • be related by blood to those he redeems Ruth 2:1
  • be able to pay the price of redemption Ruth 2:1
  • be willing to redeem Ruth 3:11
  • be free himself

Notice that how Christ fulfilled these qualifications as well:

  • Christ came in human flesh – John 1:1, 14; Word made flesh
  • Christ was able through His blood – 1 Peter 1:18, 19; Redeemed by His blood which is more precious than silver and gold
  • Christ was willing – Matthew 20:28; He came gave His life and lay it down for the sheep
  • Christ was free from the curse of sin Hebrews 4:15; Tempted in all points but did not sin

Romans 3:25 whom God set forth as a propitiation [atonement or payment] by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed,
Romans 3:26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

The guilty sinner is protected from the judgment that his sins deserve by fleeing to the city of refuge in much the same way that we also, being guilty, can flee to Christ.

Having violated His law, all of mankind is under God’s condemnation and therefore subject to the penalty for sin, which is death! But this is why Christ came…

Matthew 9:13 “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

Both Jesus Christ and the cities of refuge were for the guilty

3. The Way was Accessible

They were of no use unless someone could get to the place of refuge.

The roads leading to these cities were well-marked and clear so that the manslayer would be unhindered once he began his flight to a particular city.

Deuteronomy 19:3 “You shall prepare roads for yourself, and divide into three parts the territory of your land which the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, that any manslayer may flee there.

Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible – It was the duty of the Senate to repair the roads that led to the cities of refuge annually, and remove every obstruction. No hillock was left, no river over which there was not a bridge; and the road was at least 32 cubits broad. At cross-roads there were posts bearing the words Refuge, Refuge, to guide the fugitive in his flight.

Isaiah 40:3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the LORD; Make straight in the desert A highway for our God.

Additionally, these cities were nearby and strategically located so that the person in need was never far away–no matter where the Israelite was in the land –from availing himself of the safety provided by these appointed cities.

Paul on Mars Hill: Acts 17:27 God has done all this, so that we will look for him and reach out and find him. He isn’t far from any of us,

At the very least most were prominently located at high elevations so that they could be seen from great distances.

[RECALL] Joshua 20:7-9 Kedesh, Shechem, Hebron in the mountains; Bezer in the wilderness on the plain

Isaiah 35:8 A highway shall be there, and a road, And it shall be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean shall not pass over it, But it shall be for others. Whoever walks the road, although a fool, Shall not go astray.

The way there will be obvious

Isaiah 35:9 No lion shall be there, Nor shall any ravenous beast go up on it; It shall not be found there. But the redeemed shall walk there,

We need to avail ourselves of redemption, which is only in Christ

Isaiah 35:10 And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, And come to Zion with singing, With everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness, And sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

4. They were for Everyone

The cities of refuge were open to all, not just the Israelite; no one needs to fear that they would be turned away from their place of refuge in their time of need. Their gates were always open.

[RECALL] Numbers 35:15 ‘These six cities shall be for refuge for the children of Israel, for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them, that anyone who kills a person accidentally may flee there.

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. 

God wants everyone, Jew/Gentile; free/slave; man/woman; etc to be saved.

1 Timothy 2:3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,
1 Timothy 2:4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

God is not a respecter of persons.  He is not talking to just the Jews here.

1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus,
1 Timothy 2:6 who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time,

Christ was the payment for us and EVERYONE else.

5. They were to Enter Without Delay

The killer’s only hope was to get to a city of refuge before the avenger of blood got to him!

The manslayer was instructed to flee to one of these cities immediately to escape vengeance from the “avenger of blood”

Deuteronomy 19:4 “And this is the case of the manslayer who flees there, that he may live: Whoever kills his neighbor unintentionally, not having hated him in time past;
Deuteronomy 19:5 “as when a man goes to the woods with his neighbor to cut timber, and his hand swings a stroke with the ax to cut down the tree, and the head slips from the handle and strikes his neighbor so that he dies; he shall flee to one of these cities and live;
Deuteronomy 19:6 “lest the avenger of blood, while his anger is hot, pursue the manslayer and overtake him, because the way is long, and kill him, though he was not deserving of death, since he had not hated the victim in time past.

If they did not make the most of the time and opportunity that they had, they could forfeit their life.

2 Corinthians 6:1 We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain.
2 Corinthians 6:2 For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

Do not take your calling for granted. Now is our time for salvation and to seek refuge in Christ.  While we are alive, we need to assure our salvation.

Isaiah 55:6 Seek the LORD while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near.

Matthew 24:48 But if that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’
Matthew 24:49 and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards,
Matthew 24:50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of,
Matthew 24:51 and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

How long are we going to wait and delay our journey towards our refuge? If we do not make haste, there can and will be consequences.

6. Leaving Meant Death Hung over Their Head

Both Jesus and the cities of refuge provide protection only within their boundaries; to go outside means death.

[RECALL] Numbers 35:26 ‘But if the manslayer at any time goes outside the limits of the city of refuge where he fled,
Numbers 35:27 ‘and the avenger of blood finds him outside the limits of his city of refuge, and the avenger of blood kills the manslayer, he shall not be guilty of blood,

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.
Romans 5:10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
Romans 5:11 And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.
Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned—

Christ died for us, so that we would not have to die eternally. Salvation only comes through Him and our old life or any other way leads to death.

7. They were the Only Hope

These cities were the only means of safety.

Both Jesus and the cities of refuge are the only alternative for the one in need; without this specific protection, they will be destroyed.

[RECALL] Numbers 35:12 ‘They shall be cities of refuge for you from the avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation in judgment.

Numbers 35:24 ‘then the congregation shall judge between the manslayer and the avenger of blood according to these judgments.
Numbers 35:25 ‘So the congregation shall deliver the manslayer from the hand of the avenger of blood, and the congregation shall return him to the city of refuge where he had fled, and he shall remain there until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil.

John 3:17 “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
John 3:18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
John 3:19 “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

God put into motion this plan of giving His only Son, that we may have hope.

John 3:36 “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

This is the only hope that we have for salvation.

1 Thessalonians 1:10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

Hope and wrath are our two choices

Acts 4:12 Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

This is the only name and refuge of hope.

Conclusion

Just as these planned cities of refuge were divinely conceived, God has put into motion a plan with His Son whereby we can seek refuge from the death penalty. We are guilty, but all have a clear way ahead of us: Our way and only hope is in Christ

Hebrews 6:17 Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath,
Hebrews 6:18 that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.
Hebrews 6:19 This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil,
Hebrews 6:20 where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

We have an opportunity for refuge in Christ.

Hebrews 9:11 But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.
Hebrews 9:12 Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.

Numbers 35:25 … until the death of the high priest who was anointed [mâshach; the root word for Messiah] with the holy oil.

And because this High Priest has died, we too now no longer have to pay blood for our sins, if we take refuge in Him.